Copyright The Boulder Monitor, 2013. All rights reserved.

by Jan Anderson, editor

     Just as their predecessors, the first European settlers of the Boulder Valley, did on Sundays in the 1880s, area residents gathered at St. John the Evangelist Church July 28.

     Their comments made it clear the church, now used only for special occasions and a few services in the summer, holds a very special place in their hearts as well as in their heritage.

     For Mick McCauley, 84, his Boulder Valley roots are sunk deep in the St. John’s churchyard. “At least a dozen, maybe more” of his ancestors are buried in the cemetery there, including great, great grandparents, he said.

     The McCauleys were among the earliest settlers of the valley, and the church has always been a part of Mick McCauley’s existence.

     “It’s been here a long time, longer than me,” he said.

     Asked what it has meant to his family, he said, “One hundred percent. Everything.”

     The Smiths, Ryans and McCauleys have lived in the valley for around 150 years and their fates and families have intertwined, much of their common experience tied to the church.

     Perhaps a sign of how deep the roots run in the Boulder Valley, McCauley said, “Careys didn’t come in this country ‘til 1903.”

     Although they may be the ‘newcomers’ to the Boulder Valley, the Careys have been around long enough to have plenty of family ties to the church.

     Tom Carey, Sr., recalls how his mother used to serve chicken dinner to the priest at their ranch just south of the church following the every-other-Sunday services. The priest at the time was a fast driver and would haul some of the Carey kids back to the ranch as he sang at the top of his lungs, gesturing with his hands and hardly using the steering wheel, remembered Tom and wife Helen.

     The couple that now has great-grandchildren sprouting up around southwestern Montana were newlyweds when Helen Carey first saw the church. It had fallen into disrepair and was rarely used, she said. Because they wanted their children to make their first holy communions at the church where their predecessors did, they went to work restoring the church.

     Heated by a single wood stove at its center, the church suffered a loss in the 1960s or 70s when “there were a lot of transients around,” said Helen.

     “Somebody broke in and stole the wood stove,” she said.

     Even a lack of heat, though, did not stop the plans to return the church to its earlier prominence. The walls were among the early efforts, but renovations still continue, with new stained glass commissioned by Spike Twohy and by the family of Brud Smith gracing the front entry.

     When the nation celebrated its bicentennial in 1976, residents of the Boulder Valley published a history of the valley and the church. A Memorial Day mass to celebrate that history was “so crowded you couldn’t have fallen down if you fainted,” laughed Helen Carey.

     Under the guidance of current priest Father William Greytak, the church now opens in the spring after a thorough work team cleans it and a mass is held once in every month of the summer.

     Proud of the church’s endurance, the priest pointed out it is the only Catholic parish in Montana that still has an operating church that was one of three originally established for European settlers.

     “It’s a beautiful church. We’re working hard not to bring it into the 21st Century,” he smiled.

     As for the children of Tom and Helen Carey, all eight took first communion at St. John’s, their grandchildren did the same, and “now our great-grandchildren are being baptized here,” reported Helen Carey.

     Outside, not only Tom Carey’s ancestors have their final resting place. Ashes of her parents also have a place of honor.

     If, as Helen Carey said, the church is “kind of the heart of the valley,” it is the long-time families – and the ‘newcomer’ Careys – who keep that heart beating.

St. John’s continues to serve valley residents